Friday, August 18, 2017

Flashback Friday - Black Bean Ragout

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on March 21, 2013.
I cook most weekends and sometimes I just don't feel like dealing with meat. Especially if everything we have in that department is frozen into a giant block in the freezer. That's when I turn to canned beans, which we usually seem to have in great quantities. My favorite is black beans, which I find to be very versatile. I've used them to make hummus, veggie burgers, and even beans and franks. This time, I was feeling especially lazy and decided on a simple ragout of beans and tomatoes, flavored with chipotle.

We had a huge jar of pickled red bell peppers in the fridge; I had bought them by mistake, thinking they were an unusually-reasonably-priced jar of regular roasted peppers. The sweet vinegar tang of the peppers worked perfectly with the beans and tomatoes, and I didn't really need to use very much other seasoning, apart from salt and pepper and a bit of smoked paprika to reinforce the smokiness of the chipotle.

I topped the ragout with poached eggs made with Kenji's technique, as seen in this video I posted the other day. They were pretty gorgeous, as evidenced by the photo above.

Black Bean Ragout

1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 canned chipotle in adobo, seeded and minced
1 15oz can chopped tomatoes and their juices
2 15oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup chopped pickled red bell pepper OR 1/4 cup chopped roasted red bell pepper OR 1/4 cup chopped fresh raw red bell pepper + 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar + 1 teaspoon honey or agave nectar
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
salt and pepper

In a 2 quart saucepan, cook onion in olive oil and a pinch of salt over medium heat until the onion is translucent and just beginning to brown, about 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic, chipotle, tomatoes, beans, red bell pepper, and smoked paprika. Stir, raise heat and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low, cover pot, and simmer until beans are very tender, about 45 minutes. If there seems to be too much liquid left, turn the heat up for a few minutes to allow it to evaporate. Smash mixture with a potato masher until it's a very chunky puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Top each serving with a poached egg or two, or eat as a side dish. Makes a nice burrito filling, too.

Serves 4

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Farm to Chef 2017

If you've never attended a Farm to Chef competition, you're missing out on a good time. This year's event will be the 8th annual, and I can say from experience, the food gets better and better every time. Last year's contest was so dynamite, I had a hard time choosing a favorite dish.

Farm to Chef 2017 will be held on Monday, October 2, from 7:00pm - 9:30pm at the B & O Railroad Museum at 901 Pratt Street. Tickets can be purchased here. If you sign up by September 5, "early bird" tickets are $90.00 per person, after that, the cost goes up to $110.00. Attendees must be 21 years of age or older.

100% of funds raised by Farm to Chef goes to TasteWise Kids. TasteWise Kids, including their flagship program, Days of Taste, educates children about the relationship between food, farm, and the table, and the benefits of fresh foods. Last year's event had record attendance and raised well over $34,000!

If you need enticement, here are some images from 2016.

Chef's Expressions & One Straw Farm Pork Tortelloni filled with pork and ricotta topped with eggplant zalook and a frico chip  (WINNER Savory Dish Second Place AND People's Choice Best Dish First Place)

Copper Kitchen & Whistle Pig Hollow Toluca green chili chorizo, smoked egg, tomatillo salsa (WINNER Best Savory Dish First Place AND People's Choice Best Dish Second Place)

Elkridge Club & Prosperity Acres Smoked Goat Taco

Ida B's Table & Rettland Farm Pork Neck Osso Buco

Laurrapin & Third Way Farm Beet Dumpling

 Alma Cocina Latina & Three Springs Fruit Farm Watermelon Wagyu

Woodberry Kitchen & Grand View Farm Chicken Sausage Banh Mi

Alexandra's American Fusion & Prigel Family Creamery Sweet Pumpkin Lassi

The Charmery & Baltimore Orchard Project "Grow A Pear" - Brandy poached pear ice cream, pear bread pudding, pear-amel sauce (WINNER - Best Sweet Dish First Place AND Best Farm + Chef Pair)

The Corner Pantry & Cherry Glen Farm Banoffee Bar - goat cheese shortbread, banana cream, goat cheese caramel, caramelized banana, goat cheese tuile  (WINNER Best Sweet Dish - Second Place)

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Tomato Pie

I made the most beautiful tomato pie with bounty from our garden. So many tomatoes ripened at once, I had to do something that would use up more than one or two at a time. Pie seemed to be the answer.

I was prepared. I had refrigerated pie crusts, frozen puff pastry, and filo dough on hand. Using the refrigerated option seemed the easiest way to go, but that sort of crust would require blind baking, so the pie wouldn't turn out soggy. Invariably, when I blind bake a crust, it shrinks in the pan and is barely tall enough to hold the filling. I got clever this time and used a tart shell, which is already shorter than a standard pie pan. Rather than crimp the pastry or trim it while it was raw, I just let the excess dough overhang the top of the pan, which cut back on the shrinkage. I also don't have pie weights to prevent the crust bottom from puffing up. I had used rice for a while, but after several uses it started to smell bad so I threw it out. This time, I used a springform pan bottom wrapped in foil that fit perfectly within my pastry shell. It worked like a charm.

For the topping, I sliced my tomatoes and salted them and left them to drain on several thicknesses of paper towel. I also blotted them periodically to get off as much moisture as possible. While those were draining, I made a filling using various things I had on hand. Now, you won't be able to duplicate my filling exactly, but you can probably approximate it easily enough. I knew I wanted to use cheese, so I combined cream cheese and feta. I wanted a savory element, so I added a few spoonfuls of bacon jam (you can use finely crumbled cooked bacon and a bit of sauteed onion), and then for balance, some vinegar. But not actual vinegar. I have a bottle of Crafted Cocktails blackberry shrub in the fridge. It has a flavor somewhat like a very sweet balsamic vinegar, so I added a couple teaspoons to the filling for a touch of acidity. You can add balsamic, but start with a teaspoon and taste before adding more, as it's more tangy than the shrub.

Once the pie crust had cooked and cooled, I smeared it with the filling and topped it with the tomatoes. Into the oven it went for 35 minutes until the tomatoes had shriveled somewhat and the filling was bubbling. I let it cool completely before removing it from the tart pan and garnishing it with fresh basil.

It was delicious. And beautiful.

Tomato Pie

2 lbs tomatoes (I used a combination of Black Krim, Tie Dye, and Roma)
Salt
1 refrigerated pie crust
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 ounces crumbled feta cheese (or flavorful cheese of your choice)
2 heaping tablespoons bacon jam (or 1 tablespoon of crumbled bacon + 1 tablespoon caramelized onion)
2 teaspoons Crafted Cocktails Blackberry shrub (or 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar)
Freshly ground pepper
Fresh basil for garnish

Slice tomatoes about 1/4" thick and place in one layer on a double thickness of paper towels. Salt liberally. Allow to drain for at least half an hour, blotting occasionally with more towels.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Fit the pie crust into a 10" tart shell with 1" sides and a removable bottom. Do not trim the crust, just allow it to hang loosely over the top of the pan. Prick crust all over with a fork. Line the crust with aluminum foil and weigh down with raw rice or beans, or pie weights if you have them. If you don't have any of the above, take a 9" springform pan bottom, cover with foil, and place within the crust. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the crust starts to turn golden. Remove the pie weights or pan bottom and foil and bake an additional 5-8 minutes. Remove pie shell from oven and cool on a rack. Once cool, use a knife to trim the excess crust flush with the top of the pan.

In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese, feta, bacon jam, and shrub. Stir well to combine and add freshly ground pepper to taste. Smear onto cooled crust and top with drained tomatoes.

Bake for 30-35 minutes,  until filling is bubbly and the tomatoes have shrunken a bit. Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan. Garnish with fresh basil, cut into wedges and serve.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Flashback Friday - Chicken Salad with Couscous and Pecans

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on September 4, 2013.

The other day, I found that I hadn't made adequate plans for dinner so had to whip something up from ingredients on hand. There were two fried chicken thighs and some baby spinach in the fridge, but that's not enough for two people for dinner. At least, not these two people.

I poked around in the cupboard and found a bag of pearl couscous, which made me think of the chicken salad with pistachios and couscous at Donna's. Only we didn't have pistachios. No worries - any nuts will do, really. The combination of chicken, greens, pasta, and nuts is earthy and satisfying.

Chicken Salad with Couscous and Pecans

2 leftover fried chicken thighs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon agave syrup or honey
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
pinch crab spice (or salt and pepper)
1 cup pearl couscous
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
pinch of minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 cups mixed baby greens per person
1 avocado, sliced
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans

Remove the coating and skin from the chicken thighs and place it, skin side down, into a large skillet. Cover pan and cook over medium-high heat, turning skin pieces once or twice, until dark brown and crisp. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt.

While the skin is crisping, remove the chicken meat from the bones and tear into shreds. Mix the mayo, mustard, honey, lemon zest, and crab spice in a small bowl. Pour over the chicken and mix well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Bring 1 1/4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the pearl couscous and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the couscous is tender. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt and stir to coat the grains with oil. Set pan aside and allow couscous to cool.

Blend together the three tablespoons of olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, garlic, Dijon and maple syrup to make a vinaigrette. Toss the baby greens with the vinaigrette until the leaves are lightly coated.

For each serving: Place a bed of baby greens on a serving plate. Top with a mound of the couscous (you might have to stir it with a fork, first, to break up any clumps) and a mound of the chicken salad. Arranged sliced avocado around edge of salad. Garnish with the pecans and some of the crisp chicken skin.

Serves 2-4

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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament 2017 Finale

After many weeks of competition, the ranks have been whittled down to two chefs who will battle it out on Sunday, August 13th, to become this year's champion. The finalists, Fabio Mura of Grille 620/River Hill Grill and Damon Hersh from the Inn at Brookeville Farms, are seasoned veterans, so this should be a great show for all who turn out to cheer them on.

Get your tickets at http://www.masondixonmasterchef.com/purchase-tickets/. The price for this special finale battle is $65 per person, which include all taxes, a wine tasting by Boordy Vineyards, passed hors d’oeuvres, the competition, dessert, and coffee. New this year, ALL Tickets for the competition are "Judging Experience" tickets, which allow all guests to taste each of the six courses the chef teams produce and be part of the voting to decide the winner. Believe me, being able to taste the chefs' dishes really adds to the experience.

The competition will be held at Points South Latin Kitchen in Fells Point. Doors open at 5:30, the action starts at 6pm. Hope to see you there!
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Monday, August 07, 2017

Uncle's Hawaiian Grindz

I've always had a fascination with Hawaii, probably because as a child I spent many hours watching Hawaii 5-0 with my grandmother. And while traveling to Hawaii still remains one of those bucket list items, I was excited to find out that a new Hawaiian restaurant called Uncle's Hawaiian Grindz had opened in Fallston. Oahu native Kaiman Chee, grand prize winner on Food Network's Cutthroat Kitchen, is the chef/owner of this casual dining restaurant. Along with his partner, Fallston native Kosmas “Tommie” Koukoulis, Chef Chee is bringing the flavors of Hawaii to Maryland while sourcing his ingredients locally.

Recently, The Minx and I decked ourselves out in Hawaiian shirts and visited the restaurant to see what Hawaiian cuisine was all about.

Since poke (pronounced poe-kay) is becoming a trend in this part of the country, we started off with the poke boat, featuring four different styles of poke. Both the Queen Street Tuna and Walu Poke had bright, fresh flavors thanks to elements like lime, ginger, and avocado. The Minx does not like raw salmon, but she enjoyed the salt-cured Lomi Salmon, which was enhanced by the addition of tomato, scallion, onion, and "firecracker" aioli. The biggest surprise, however, was the deep fried tofu poke which uses tofu sourced from the Eastern Shore. The tofu is tossed in red pepper flakes and citrus shoyu before being battered and deep fried. Anyone who says they don't like tofu will be converted by this dish.

Since WWII, Spam has been beloved in Hawaii, and a sushi-like dish called musubi is a staple on the Islands. Uncle's Spam Musubi is teriyaki-marinated Spam wrapped in rice and nori, served atop a combination of kabayaki glaze and Uncle's secret sauce. Although I ate Spam regularly as a kid, I could not stand the saltiness as an adult. However, this Spam was surprisingly mild and the overall texture of the musubi was quite pleasant.

One of that evening's specials was a pineapple corn fritter, which was both unusual and delicious. The pineapple flavor was subtle, and somehow lent a bit of lightness to the fried dough ball.

Kalua pig is a Hawaiian preparation in which a whole pig is wrapped in ti or banana leaves and buried in the ground where it is slow cooked. To simulate this preparation, the restaurant invested in a special $17,000 oven that somewhat approximates the conditions of a traditional underground oven, or imu, producing moist, succulent pork. The Kalua Pig Lumpia appetizer mixes the smoke-braised pork with carrot and cabbage and stuffs it inside a spring roll wrapper before frying. The delicate, crunchy wrapper is the perfect vehicle for the sweet pork and veggie mix. There's additional sweet sauce on the side if you like it extra sweet, but we didn't find it necessary.

For our entrees, we thought we should try one of the mixed plates so that we could experience several menu items at once, and also select one of the sandwich offerings. We went with the Uncle's Mixed Plate which had Huli Huli Chicken, Shrimp Shack Skewer, and Beef Teriyaki, along with an Asian stir fry of mixed vegetables. We also added the Kalua Pork to the plate so we could try the meat on its own. Unlike the full entree version of the Huli Huli Chicken, which is a full half chicken, the sample on our plate was a shredded pile of flavorfully brined meat. The pork and beef were also boldly seasoned, and the grilled shrimp had that wonderful briny flavor that we love so much. It was a delight to sample each type of protein in a rotation and get a different bite with every forkful.

Macaroni salad is a big thing in Hawaii, so it is served family style, along with white rice, for the entrees. The macaroni salad was creamy and mild, and surprisingly not as sweet as typical picnic-style mac salad.

Sandwiched within a large King's Hawaiian sweet bread bun, the Chicken Katsu-wich features a crispy fried chicken breast topped with bacon lardons, baby swiss, and shredded cabbage. Firecracker aioli oozes from this spicy, unctuous sandwich that is at once exotic and familiar. The sweet potato fries were a great accompaniment, but you can get regular fries if you prefer.

Uncle's Hawaiian Grindz has a varied list of tempting Hawaiian-inspired desserts, but after all the food we had already eaten, we didn't think we could indulge any more. Tommie Koukoulis insisted that we at least partake of one of their lighter desserts, the Whipped Otai. Fresh mango, pineapple, and shaved coconut are mixed into a whipped coconut cream, then topped with crushed macadamia nuts and fresh mint. Light and refreshing, and very fragrant, it's a perfect dessert for a hot summer evening (or any time really).

Before we went to Uncle's Hawaiian Grindz, I wanted to find out what the word "grindz" meant. As I discovered, it simply means "good food." In that case, the restaurant certainly lives up to its name.

Uncle's Hawaiian Grindz
2315 Belair Rd Suite 2B
Fallston, MD 21047
(443) 966-3999

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Friday, August 04, 2017

Flashback Friday - Dumplings

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on April 10, 2013.

On one of the final episodes of that Food Network classic, "Worst Cooks in America," the worstcooktestants are tasked with making dumplings - Chinese siu mai and wontons and Japanese gyoza. As I was watching, I thought to myself, "if those mostly-incompetent people can make an edible dumpling, a mostly competent person like me can, too!" Honestly, they made it look very easy, right down to the little pleats on the gyoza.

Gyoza, or jaiozi, in Chinese, has been my family's favorite Chinese restaurant appetizer forever. No Chinese meal was complete without them. And they had to be fried. Potstickers, they're called. One can, of course, steam them, but my favorite part of the dumpling is the crisp bottom part of the wrapper. Mmm.

I recall making jaiozi with a friend some years ago, and it seemed like a huge production. She had made the filling in advance, so it was the dumpling-forming and cooking that were intimidating to me at the time. But now that I look back, vaguely remembering that she insisted on boiling them in a large pot of water before frying, I see that we made them incorrectly. Especially since many of them fell apart before they even made it to our mouths.

I think she was mostly paranoid about using raw ground pork in the filling, but she needn't have been.

A quick online search brought up myriad variations on that filling. Some used cabbage, some didn't. Some added shrimp. Bobby Flay's recipe (found in his Throwdown cookbook) called for hoisin, chile paste, 5-spice powder and allspice. No wonder he lost. I decided to go with a more simple combination of ingredients: ginger, garlic, cilantro, and green onions. I did borrow an ingredient from Chef Flay's dipping sauce: black vinegar. The result was interesting, but the slightly molasses-y flavor of the vinegar was a bit overpowering. Much better was a more traditional sauce made with soy, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and scallions. I've supplied the recipe for both; you may decide you like the vinegar sauce. Flay uses hoisin (and a thousand other ingredients) in his, in place of the sugar and soy, which may work better than my substitutions if you don't mind a thicker sauce.

In any case, dumpling making was much simpler than expected. The round wrappers are pre-made and sold in 12- or 16-oz packages at your neighborhood Asian grocer. If you can only find square won ton wrappers, you can cut them with a large round cookie cutter.

Potstickers

1.5 lb ground pork
1 T chopped scallions
1 t grated fresh ginger
1 t chopped garlic
1 t finely minced cilantro
salt
1 16-oz package round dumpling wrappers
oil for frying

In a medium bowl, combine pork, scallions, ginger, garlic, and cilantro, plus a generous pinch of salt. You can taste for seasoning by cooking a bit of the meat in a little hot oil. Remember that the dipping sauces contain soy and will be salty, so don't overdo it.

Prepare your area for dumpling assembly: have a clean cookie sheet or two covered with parchment, a Silpat, or a clean tea towel nearby, plus a small ramekin of water, the bowl of filling, and a teaspoon.

Take a dumpling wrapper and place it into your left palm (right, if you're left-handed). Dip a finger in the water and use it to moisten the edge all the way around. Use the spoon to place a blob of meat into the center of the wrapper, then fold the wrapper into a semi-circle. If there's too much meat, take some out at this point. Pinch the middle edges of the dumpling together and then make a pleat to one side of the middle using only the side of the wrapper facing you. (In other words, the dumpling is pleated only on one face.) Add another pleat or two (if they fit) to that end, then repeat the pleats on the opposite end of center. Gently squeeze the edge of the wrapper to make sure it's closed and that there are no air bubbles, and place it on the cookie sheet. Repeat until all wrappers and/or meat are gone.

(For a visual aid to pleating dumplings, check out this video of Chef Anita Lo doing just that. Dumpling making starts at about the 2 minute mark. Before that time, she demonstrates making the dumpling wrappers themselves. She's a bit fancy; I found it easier to pinch the wrapper closed in the middle and make 2 or 3 pleats on either side.)

To cook dumplings: Add a tablespoon or so of neutral cooking oil to a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add a layer of dumplings. You can fill the pan, but don't crowd it; the dumplings should not overlap. Cover the pan and cook for a few minutes, until the bottoms of the dumplings are a nice golden brown. If the pan seems to be getting too hot, turn the heat down a bit. Once the dumplings are brown - don't turn them! - add a quarter cup or so of water (more or less, depending on the size of your pan and number of dumplings). Cover the pan and cook until the water has evaporated. At this point, the dumplings should be shiny and somewhat translucent on the top (non-browned) side. If you're concerned about the pork being cooked, cut a dumpling in half and check. If they're not cooked, add a few tablespoons more water, cover the pan, and cook until additional water has evaporated.

Remove cooked dumplings to a plate and serve with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce 1

3 T black vinegar
1 T rice wine vinegar
2 T light soy
1 T light brown sugar
1 T chopped scallions

Combine ingredients in a small bowl, stirring to make sure sugar dissolves. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or so for flavors to combine.

Dipping Sauce 2

2 T light soy
1 T rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 T chopped scallions
1 t toasted sesame oil

Combine ingredients in a small bowl, stirring to make sure sugar dissolves. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or so for flavors to combine.

If you've made more dumplings than you can eat at one sitting, put the remaining dumplings, still on the cookie sheet, in the freezer for a few hours. When frozen solid, transfer to plastic bags and store in the freezer. When you cook them, you'll need to leave them on the heat for a bit longer.

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Monday, July 31, 2017

Easy Chilled Root Vegetable Soup

In the summer, I love making cold soups - just toss a bunch of stuff in a blender, add stock if it's not already liquidy, and refrigerate. So easy. Gazpacho is my fave; it takes no time at all if I'm really lazy because I'll used canned tomatoes and jarred roasted red peppers. But woman does not live by gazpacho alone. Sometimes the farmers' market (or grocery store) has other interesting veg on offer, like celery root.

I love celery root, or celeriac, both raw and cooked. I use it raw in a salad like celeri remoulade, and I always roast it as part of a Thanksgiving side dish. For this dish, I used it two ways, both raw and cooked--very Fine Young Cannibals of me. (Despite the cannibal reference, it's completely vegetarian and can be made vegan as well.) I thought my concoction was reminiscent of vichyssoise, the classic French chilled potato soup, but with the twist of celery root. Also, regular onion was used in place of the traditional leeks, but you could certainly substitute 2-3 leeks if you prefer.

I can't not make a bit of celeri remoulade if I have a celery root. The flavor is hard to describe, but I'm crazy about it. Celery root tastes somewhat like celery, very aromatic, but has a texture closer to a carrot or parsnip. Sliced thinly and combined with a mustardy remoulade sauce with lots of tangy capers, it's great as a substitute for cole slaw with dishes like bbq or crab cakes. And it added much-needed texture to the pureed soup. Even if you don't like celery (it's not my fave) you might enjoy celery root, so I say it's definitely worth trying if you see it somewhere.

Celery Root Vichyssoise

1 medium celery root
3 medium potatoes, like Yukon Gold, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 cups of stock (I used 1 Bou Bouillon cube in the Vegetable flavor)
2 or more cups of milk (use your favorite non-dairy milk for a vegan version)
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons capers in brine
1 scant tablespoon mayonnaise
Dash champagne vinegar
Dijon mustard
Lemon juice
Several sprigs fresh thyme

Peel the celery root. Thinly slice about 1/4 of the root and cut the slices into matchsticks and set aside. Cut the remaining root into 1" chunks.

Put the chunks of celery root, along with the potato and onion, in a large saucepan. Add the stock and milk and the bay leaf and bring mixture to a boil. Once it boils, turn the heat to a simmer. Watch the pot so it does not boil over and cook the potatoes and celery root until tender. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 15 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf from the pot and add about half of the potato/celery root/milk mixture to the jar of a blender (do not fill all the way). Remove the stopper from the blender lid and place a folded tea towel on top. Hold the towel down tightly over the opening and start the blender on the lowest speed. If the mixture is too hot, it will shoot out the top of the blender, so it's very important to keep a tight grip on the towel. If the mixture is adequately cool, it will blend without exploding. Still, it doesn't hurt to keep your hand on top. Puree the mixture, adding more milk if it's too thick, into a soup-like consistency. You don't want it too runny, nor do you want something resembling mashed potatoes. Pour the puree into a container with a lid and add the remaining potato/celery/milk mixture to the blender. Repeat the steps to puree. Add the new batch of puree to the container with the first batch and stir. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours.

While the soup is cooking, put the capers on a cutting board and smash them into a chunky puree with the side of a knife. Make a dressing with the mayo, vinegar, a small dollop of Dijon, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add the capers. Taste for seasoning and add salt if you need it, but the ingredients are probably salty enough. The dressing should be lightly tangy and taste of capers. Toss with the matchstick cut celery root and refrigerate  until ready to use.

To serve, ladle the soup into serving bowls. Top with a handful of the celery salad, and garnish with the thyme leaves and fresh pepper.

Serves 4.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Flashback Friday - Green Tomato Relish

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on July 23, 2013.

We've planted tomatoes in containers for several years now. The smaller, miniature varieties grow like gangbusters, but the full-sized fruits are always a disappointment. This year, we put in a raised bed garden and planted it with several types of large tomatoes. They're growing well - yay! But not wanting to have more ripe tomatoes than we can handle at one time, I've been culling them while green. There's only so many times one feels like fussing with fried green tomatoes, so I wanted to do something different. Easier. I thought maybe a green tomato relish could be interesting, but when I looked for recipes on the Web, all I found were supersweet versions that would be best used on a hot dog. I wanted something far more subtle, something slightly sweet, slightly tangy, and not at all pickle-tasting.

Basically, I chopped my green tomatoes, added a bare minimum of seasoning, and was pretty satisfied with that. I served it over pan-seared salmon and barley "Alfredo." (Prepare a package of quick cooking barley, drain and add a big blob of butter, a couple tablespoons of heavy cream, and a handful of grated Parmesan cheese. Stir well, season to taste.)

Green Tomato Relish

olive oil
3 green tomatoes, cut in small dice
1 tablespoon diced onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
salt, pepper, hot sauce to taste

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add tomatoes and onion. Cook for a minute or so, then add the garlic. Stir frequently for another minute, then add the brown sugar and vinegar. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and hot sauce (I like Tabasco's green jalapeno sauce for this) to taste. If you feel the tomatoes need more sugar or vinegar, then add to taste. Cook for another minute or so. The tomatoes should still be somewhat crisp.

Store in the refrigerator in a covered jar until ready to use.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Charred Carrot Salad

I am really in love with charred carrots. I've made them at least twice before (here and here) and will make them again and again. I love the way the burnt outsides add another dimension of flavor to the sweet and earthy vegetable. It takes away a bit of the sweetness, actually, making them more palatable to people who are not all that fond of cooked carrots (like Mr Minx). I also love the way they smell while they are charring over the gas flame of my cooktop. Yes, they smell burnt, but that's not a bad thing.

In the past, I put the charred carrots in the oven to finish cooking, but when it's 1000 degrees outside, the microwave is a less-sweaty alternative. Takes much less time, too.

For some reason, I find that charred carrots go really well with Middle Eastern flavors, like harissa, so I whipped up a quick vinaigrette with some stuff I had on hand--lemon juice, Dijon, honey, and harissa. I don't like oily vinaigrettes--I prefer them to be on the acidy or sweet side, so I used just enough extra virgin olive oil to add richness and bind the other ingredients together. I think I made about three tablespoons of the dressing in all, so start off with tiny amounts like the juice of half a lemon, a small squirt of the mustard, a dollop of the honey, a wee bit of harissa. Beat well with a fork, then add a tablespoon or so of the oil. Beat again. Taste. If it needs more of anything, add it. If not, then you've made a very flavorful dressing with not a whole lot of work.

Add nuts and cheese to the salad--I had walnuts and bleu, but pistachios and feta would be amazing. Scallion and mint add still more flavor.

This salad would make a great meal all on its own with some good buttered bread, I think, but it would also be a fab side dish for some simple grilled chicken.

Charred Carrot Salad

4-5 medium carrots
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 teaspoon harissa or to taste
Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey or to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
1 scallion, thinly sliced on the bias
Chopped walnuts or pistachios
Bleu cheese or feta crumbles (omit if you prefer a vegan dish)
Fresh mint leaves

Peel and trim the carrots. Blot carrots dry with a paper towel and blacken on a very hot grill or over an open gas flame. Turn them regularly to blacken all sides. As the carrots are done, place them on a microwave-safe plate. When all carrots are thoroughly charred, cover the plate with plastic wrap and microwave on high power about 4-5 minutes or until tender. Remove plastic and allow carrots to cool on the plate.

Make a dressing with the lemon juice, harissa, a squirt of Dijon, the honey, and a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Beat with a fork until emulsified and taste. Add salt if needed. It should be very thick and pungent. Add more lemon or harissa if you want it more tart or spicy.

When carrots are cool, cut them on the bias into about 2" long slices. Mound them on a plate, drizzle with dressing, and top with scallions, nuts, cheese, and torn fresh mint.

Serves 2 - 4

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Flashback Friday - Tomatillo Soup

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on August 18, 2014.
Once in a while I taste something in a restaurant that I feel I must duplicate at home. The tomatillo soup with caramelized tomatoes and cilantro that my brother ate at SoBo Cafe recently was one of those dishes. I had coincidentally just purchased a pound of tomatillos at the farmers' market, so it seemed like something I *needed* to make.

It seemed simple enough to reconstruct the dish. I could tell there was a creamy element to the soup, as well as a nice smoky dose of chipotle pepper. For the caramelized tomato element, I'd just make some oven-roasted tomatoes, like the ones in this recipe, only with a bare tablespoon each of the balsamic and olive oil, and no garlic.

With the help of a blender, I put together a soup that seemed pretty darn close to SoBo's version. It was tangy, creamy, and refreshing, with a bit of sweetness from the tomatoes. I loved it, but Mr Minx thought it was too tart. If you make it and find that to be the case, you could always add a bit more honey or agave syrup to the soup to balance out the tangy tomatillos.

Creamy Chilled Tomatillo Soup

1/2 onion, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
Pinch salt
1 pound fresh tomatillos, rinsed after husking
1 big handful cilantro leaves and stems
1 teaspoon chipotle powder (you could also used minced chipotle in adobo, but it could affect the color of the soup)
1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup
1/2 cup full fat or 2% Greek yogurt
Salt to taste
Caramelized tomatoes
Cilantro for garnish

Cook the onion in the olive oil and salt until translucent. Set aside to cool. When cool, add to the pitcher of a blender along with the tomatillos and cilantro. Puree the vegetables and then add the chipotle, honey, and yogurt and process again until smooth. Season with salt to taste (a half teaspoon or so).

If you want a smoother soup, pass the tomatillo/cilantro mixture through a sieve before adding the seasonings and yogurt.

Garnish each serving with 3-4 tomatoes and some cilantro leaves.

Makes about a quart.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

NY Dining, June 2017

When I went to the Fancy Food Show in June, I was prepared for an orgy of eating. The show itself is a festival of cheese, charcuterie, pastries, and more nutritious snacks like kale chips and fruit juices, but woman does not live by grazing alone. I also ate lots of real food.

I started off with a Cambodian sandwich of five spice-glazed pork belly at Num Pang Kitchen in NoMad. Like a banh mi, the sandwich involved meat, spicy mayo, carrots, cukes, and cilantro on a crisp baguette. I felt the pork belly was slightly tough and didn't have much of the advertised five spice flavor, but overall the sandwich had a nice combination of flavors and textures.

Later, after walking through the Fancy Food Show for a couple of hours, I needed a pick-me-up,. An Earl Gray milk tea with "3js" (boba, pudding, and herbal jelly) at Gong Cha--a tiny tea shop in Koreatown down the street from my hotel--looked good, and it was. Except that I picked up a skinny straw, which made drinking fairly impossible. Every sip was blocked by a big black tapioca pearl. Eventually I managed to finish the liquid and soft additions and ate the boba by shaking them into my mouth. Awkward, but tasty.

For dinner, my roommate--the beloved and legendary Dara--her friend Jeff, and I had Chinese food. The Pride parade had ended minutes before; 5th Avenue and its cross streets were eerily quiet, apart from the sound of street cleaning machines and leaf-blowers. Our first choice for dinner, Cafe China, was packed, with an hour wait for a table, so we wandered up a few blocks to the bigger and less-full Szechuan Gourmet. We ordered Szechuan Pork Dumplings with Roasted Chili Soy, Beef Chow Fun, Braised Whole Bass with Sichuan Chili Miso, and Braised Crispy Tofu with Chili and Sliced Pork.

I used to love the Szechuan won tons at a place in Randallstown called Szechuan Best; they've sadly been closed for quite a number of years. The dumplings at Szechuan Gourmet were tender with a nice porky filling, but the sauce wasn't spicy enough and was also quite sweet. And garlicky. I was afraid to breathe near people for a good part of the next day because I was sure I had awful garlic breath. (Nobody recoiled in horror, I'm happy to say).

The fish was the best of the other three dishes, with tender meat in a tasty sauce. The tofu dish was odd, as something labeled "braised and crispy" should be. The tofu was not at all crispy, but it had been fried before braising, which gave it a firm-ish texture. The pork had been quick cooked, so it was tender, but curiously flavor-less. The whole dish was, actually. It was definitely the least-sweet Chinese dish I've ever tried, and also most bland. The chow fun was just ok, maybe a bit greasy, as it often can be, and seriously lacking in wok hay. The term "wok hay" means "breath of the wok," and refers to a particular quality that is achieved through cooking food quickly in a properly hot wok. It's rare, but most often I have found it in beef chow fun. Wok hay has a flavor that is hard to describe, but once you taste it, you will always recognize it.

The next morning, I met my friend Daisy at The Breslin for breakfast. I think The Breslin is my favorite restaurant serving modern American cuisine in NY. It's close to my hotel, the food is good, and breakfast is uncomplicated yet not boring. I enjoyed my sunny-side-up eggs with harissa-braised kale and applewood-smoked lamb bacon, even without toast (which apparently is a la carte). The kale was super tender and lightly spicy, and the bacon tasted like...bacon. I wasn't even offended by the brown edges on the eggs, which are not usually the way I like them. Daisy had a lovely little charred ramp frittata, and we also drank plenty of coffee to fuel our day. She went to the Fancy Food Show, but I had other plans: perfume sniffing at Bergdorf's, Barney's, and Saks.

I figured that Urbanspace Vanderbilt was somewhat on the way back to the hotel, so after a disappointing morning of sniffing but not buying, I stopped in for lunch. Urbanspace is a food court near Grand Central Station with 19 vendors, including Roberta's pizza, Red Hook Lobster Pound, Dough donuts, and lots of other good stuff. After I walked around the place twice, I decided I wasn't hungry enough to eat anything more than a single al pastor taco from La Palapa Taco Bar. It was piping hot and fresh, good without being anything to write home about. The horchata I got to drink was excellent though. Next time, I'll go with a friend and skip breakfast.

Saks was next, then Penhaligon's. I did finally find a scent I liked--Creed Vetiver Geranium--but the price is a whopping $315. The sales associate said they were doing a $20 discount, which would have taken the price down to $295. I had $150 worth of gift cards, but even then, the scent would cost me $145--an insane price considering the over 50% discount. The SA at Penhaligon's was helping a couple, but still took the time to mansplain to me how to smell perfume. I left.

By the time I got back to the hotel, I felt I could use something sweet and popped into Paris Baguette next door for a treat. I had a "cruffin," one of the laminated pastry inventions inspired by Dominique Ansel's "cronut." Basically a croissant manipulated into a muffin shape, filled with a bit of vanilla custard, and garnished with a sprinkle of sugar and a chocolate straw, the cruffin hit the spot.

Later that evening, Daisy and I went on a Hornblower cruise to the Statue of Liberty. Sponsored by Urbani Truffles, the cruise involved loud live music and plenty of food: whole pig porchetta, arancini, truffled burrata, meatballs in truffle cream sauce, truffled pasta, risotto. Despite a decent dinner on the high seas, we stopped at Joe's Pizza for a slice afterward.

It was perfect--thin crisp crust that crackled when I folded it, an unsweetened sauce, and just the right amount of cheese. I'll definitely have to make a habit of stopping there when I'm near Bleecker Street.

Grom was conveniently located a few doors down, so we stopped in for (very expensive) gelato. I don't remember the price being so astronomical on past visits; I'm betting the whipped cream (which I never had before) was the culprit. What other reason would two small gelati cost $16? In any case, I had pistachio and it was as delicious as ever.

We made one more stop at a cocktail bar called The Up & Up for a nightcap. I enjoyed The Quilt Room (Jim Beam Black Extra-Aged Bourbon, rooibos and rose hip tea blend, lime cordial, lemon juice, honey, and Angostura bitters) and should look more into making tea-based cocktails at home.

They call NY the "city that never sleeps," at least in a song. I can attest to the Herald Square area being very sleepy and deserted at 2:30am. My only company on the way back to my hotel were the homeless people snoozing on the sidewalks.

The next morning, I had absolutely no desire to eat breakfast. I needed coffee, because I was exhausted from lack of sleep, but my feet ached too much to look for a Starbucks. Instead, I went straight to the Javits Center for another day of Fancy Food Show wandering. I was happy to find a local vendor giving away decently-sized samples of cold brew coffee right out front, and I gulped one down before heading to the show floor (where I indulged in a latte from the Ethical Bean Coffee booth, as I usually do).

I was leaving for home after the show, but I had just enough time to stop somewhere for dinner. The idea of Korean tapas was intriguing, so I tried a few things at Barn Joo 35. I really wanted to try everything on the menu, but had to settle for just a few items.

Check out the online menu, which is gorgeously photographed.

My waiter steered me toward the crunchy tofu balls with caramelized kimchi. It was a little on the sweet side, which I expect in Korean food, and the balls were indeed crunchy on the outside (and fluffy on the inside). The kimchi wasn't as intense as fresh (well, non-caramelized) kimchi, more mellow and sweet, and with a softer texture. I enjoyed it.

I also enjoyed the galbi buns. Galbi is normally made with flat-cut short ribs which cook up to a chewy deliciousness, but the filling in these buns was a more tender cut, perhaps conventional short ribs. They were lightly glazed with galbi sauce and topped with a scallion and cabbage salad and served in folded steamed buns. Two buns plus the crunchy tofu made for a nice medium-sized dinner. I also enjoyed a housemade yuzu soda because I felt it was too early for a cocktail. "What???" you say, "It's always 5 o'clock somewhere!" It was 5 o'clock in NY, but I was going to stagger several blocks with a very heavy backpack and didn't need any more impediments to walking.

I picked up three donuts at Underwest Donuts at Penn Station for Mr Minx before I boarded my train. Underwest was Underwhelming. The rest of the eats I had, however, were pretty darn good.

Barn Joo 35
34 W 35th St, New York, NY 10001

Gong Cha
12 W 32nd St New York, NY 10001

Grom
233 Bleecker St New York, NY 10014

Joe's Pizza
7 Carmine St, New York, NY 10014

Num Pang Kitchen
1129 Broadway New York, NY 10010

Paris Baguette
6 W 32nd St, New York, NY 10001

Szechuan Gourmet
21 W 39th St, New York, NY 10018

Underwest Donuts
2 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121

The Up & Up
116 Macdougal Street New York, 10012

Urbanspace Vanderbilt
East 45th & Vanderbilt Ave, New York, NY 10169

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